Harvard Heart Letter

On the horizon: New stop-smoking aids

On the horizon

New stop-smoking aids

Most stop-smoking aids are little more than nicotine delivery devices. They work by easing the body's craving for this highly addicting substance. One FDA-approved drug that influences something other than nicotine is Zyban (buproprion), an antidepressant. It reduces nicotine withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness. Two drugs that might hit the market in 2006 (unapproved as of press time), along with anti-smoking vaccines under development, could offer additional approaches to quitting smoking.

Pfizer has asked the FDA to approve a drug called Champix (varenicline). Champix latches onto the nicotine receptor in the brain and activates it, much as nicotine does. This reduces a smoker's craving for nicotine and eases withdrawal symptoms.

Acomplia (rimonabant), a drug developed by Sanofi-Aventis, could be a winner for two huge problems — obesity and smoking. It works by blocking the receptors in the brain that, when activated by marijuana, create the extreme hunger pangs that cannabis smokers call "the munchies." Although the company has asked the FDA to approve Acomplia for weight loss, studies show it also helps cigarette smokers quit.

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